Mark Lanegan, the former frontman for Screaming Trees, has been doing the dark alt.country thing for a while now; he's always done it well, but in this collaboration with Belle & Sebastian's Isobell Campbell he does it superbly. It takes a big voice and a swagger to successfully cover the Hank Williams-penned title track, and Lanegan has both. Though nobody can fill the cultural hole that Johnny Cash has left behind, Lanegan makes a good case that his weathered baritone can fill the sonic one.
Lanegan treats Campbell like his secret weapon, bringing her out slowly and purposefully. She lays down a soft accompaniment on the title track while handling some decidedly June Carter-esque harmonies on the wonderfully charming ballad "(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me." "Revolver Pt. 2" has Campbell bringing out her inner chateneuse to whispersing over Lanegan's creepy-barely-there guitar, a spectre singing to a ghost town. The track is affecting, minimal, striking, gorgeous. It's a black hole that would swallow up the other songs on most EPs, but to Lanegan's credit his other selections stand strong. Lanegan's voice is absent for the folk standard "St. James Infirmary," but in exchange we get the entrance of Campbell's cello and some heady gender swapping in her performance of the male narrator's voice.
The teases of harmony the duo hand us here are tantalizing, and one gets the sense that if both singers were to go at full-tilt we'd get sonic gold. The Ramblin Man EP is just a preview of the full length collaboration due some time later this year, and if the rest of the material is this good then it may be time to start firing up those Top 10 Lists.